The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Digital] - FLASHBACK | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Digital] - FLASHBACK

flashback review
Plagued by hallucinations, a young man investigates the disappearance of a girl he knew in high school.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Christopher MacBride

Starring: Dylan O'Brien, Maika Monroe, Emory Cohen, Hannah Gross, Keir Gilchrist

flashback poster

Ever since Jimmy Stewart dived into the San Francisco bay to fish out a suicidal Kim Novak in Hitchcock's Vertigo, movies have been filled with men trying to save enigmatic blondes. Perhaps the tragic and untimely death of Marilyn Monroe has something to do with this obsession too. Maybe the movie lovers who make movies have been attempting to retroactively save the late Norma Jean Baker. David Lynch and Mark Frost's Twin Peaks – in which the death of a young blonde woman impacts both the residents of the titular town and the FBI agent sent to investigate her murder – has its roots in an abandoned script on the life of Monroe. As with James Dean, had Marilyn lived to old age would she still hold such fascination, or would seeing her as a wrinkled old lady serve to hammer home her mortality and disrupt the illusion?

flashback review

In writer/director Christopher MacBride's migraine-inducing thriller Flashback, the Marilyn figure is played by one of American cinema's current blondes du jour, Maika Monroe. Is it merely a coincidence that she shares the same initials and surname as the late icon? For our sad sack protagonist, Fred (Dylan O'Brien), Monroe's character, Cindy, holds the same appeal. He's just hit 30, and the impending death of his bedridden mother is a stark reminder that his youth has passed. In Fred's mind, Cindy remains youthful. He last saw her in the halls of his high school when they were both 17, but he's recently begun to experience hallucinations in which Cindy appears to be begging for his help.

Thanks to his then addiction to a psychedelic drug called "Mercury", Fred's recollections of his teen years are foggy. Desperate to find out what became of Cindy, he tracks down Sebastian (Emory Cohen with one of his trademark scuzzball performances), the former high school dealer responsible for getting Fred and Cindy hooked on Mercury. At first Sebastian plays it cool, but riddled by guilt, he eventually agrees to help Fred look into Cindy's whereabouts. With the aid of some tabs of Mercury, the two attempt to retrace their teenage steps and find out what became of their own enigmatic blonde.

flashback review

For various reasons, Flashback is a difficult movie to review. If it seems guilty of rehashing old tropes like a man escaping his boring life by regressing to his teen years and attempting to rescue a troubled woman, it's doing so in service of commenting on said tropes. To discuss how exactly it does this would be to reveal the film's surprises, which I'm loathe to do. I also feel that it might take several watches to fully unpack the film's mind-bending narrative, but with an ever-growing pile of screeners to get through, that's simply not an option for this reviewer.

I can't say I fully understood Flashback's plot, which flits back and forth across what may either be conflicting timelines or alternate realities, but this wouldn't have been an issue if I had been more invested in Fred and his quest. Plot has always been secondary to character when it comes to my embracing of a movie, but here the characters are very much secondary to the plot. We never get a grasp of who Fred is, because even he becomes less sure of his existence as he digs deeper down the rabbit hole in search of Cindy. This is largely intentional, but it results in a film that asks us to passively follow its protagonist, keeping us at a distance on his quest.

flashback review

The movie climaxes with an emotionally overwhelming scene that got under my skin, but I suspect it's because it brought up some personal issues I've been thinking about recently, rather than as a culmination of any emotional investment in Fred. Said climax resolves a subplot in a manner that suggests MacBride may be exorcising some personal demons of his own and like his young hero, trying to atone for some past regrets. I'm all for filmmakers using their work as a form of personal therapy, but it needs to connect with the audience in a way Flashback never quite manages.

Flashback is on UK Digital, US VOD and in US cinemas from June 4th.

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